My friend was at the threshold of adolescence with her first born. A while back, she described an unsettling incident with her then nine year old daughter. Upon discovering her daddy had stacked four slices of freshly baked Costco pizza on top of each other, so that cheese was stuck to top of each plate, the girl exclaimed in a very snotty tone, "Thanks a lot dad!"
Her story brought back memories of the sharp words and smart aleck comments that often accompany adolescence. I recalled a particularly difficult day with my sometimes contentious first born, when his more tender-hearted, younger brother declared with tears rolling down his cheeks, "I am never going to talk to you that way mommy." I smiled to myself. Because I knew he would. And, he did.
This is the age and stage when our children begin to test the boundaries that we have worked so hard to carefully define for them. I am certain it is NO ACCIDENT the only story in the Bible about Jesus' childhood is when he was a twelve year old boy.
You may be familiar with the story. Every year, Jesus and his family traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Afterwards, a day's journey towards home, Mary and Joseph realized Jesus was nowhere to be found. Two days later, frantic with worry, they finally found their son back in Jerusalem. In Luke 2 we read, "The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt."
His mother said, "Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you."
Jesus answered, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?" But they had no idea what he was talking about. (Luke 2: 41-50)
Does this conversation sound familiar? One of the constant battles of adolescence and raising teenagers is their need to test the limits. They need to assert their independence, in word and deed. I believe the glimpse we're shown of Jesus at age twelve reveals that children began to sense their individuality and God ordained purpose, then begin to subconsciously press towards it. When they do, our teens naturally begin to try to separate from mom and dad. If we are not aware of this or don't understand it, it will cause added pain and strife.
As my husband and I negotiated the unpredictable challenges of raising teenagers, I took some great advice from one of my favorite movies, You've Got Mail. "It's not personal, It's business!"
In the film, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) owns and runs a small children's bookstore. Sadly, her tiny store is shut down when a trendy super bookstore opens up "around the corner." The owner, savvy business tycoon Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), becomes her arch enemy. In a conversation about business ethics, Joe tells Kathleen, "It's not personal, It's business!"
This was not the advice Miss Kelly wanted to hear. But, for me, smack dab in the middle of raising four teenagers, from 16 to 11, it was exactly the advice I needed! The struggle with my teens WAS NOT PERSONAL! IT WAS BUSINESS! My children were trying to grow up, to gain independence, to separate, and become the men and women God created them to be. And, more often than not, they were not even aware of what they were doing.
Many times my reaction was like Mary and Joseph, "Young man, why have you done this to us." And my kids responded like Jesus, "Why, didn't you know I had to be here?" I discovered there is fine line between letting our children grow and reminding them who is boss. Even Jesus story continued, "Then he (Jesus) went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."
My friend and her husband wisely took steps to let their daughter know they did not condone and would not tolerate her disrespectful attitude. However, they were also aware that she was taking her first steps across the threshold from childhood to becoming a young adult. Crossing that threshold, doesn't mean we stop being the parents. Not at all. More than ever, we need to be intentional and strategic in our parenting as we allow our children the room to grow into the men and women God created them to be!
As you can see in the photo, we all survived the teen years. And, I want to encourage you who are in the middle of them, you will make it too! I’d love to hear your stories and solutions. I am praying for you, dear parent, as you travel the sometimes precarious road of raising our precious future generation.